By Louise Conner —
The avalanche lily lifts its yellow face
careless of the coming winter
when ice will bury it beneath its burden
stripping it all the way to roots.
Petals uncurl toward this day’s sun, offering
nectar to whatever happens by.
It does not hoard or hide
but calls with scent and color
taste and see, taste and see.
If winter comes,
when winter comes, grief
will turn blossoms earthward
dampen them to brown decay,
but in the short alpine season
the lily offers all the gifts it has
here, amidst the granite,
on this bright September day.
When I think of walls, I think of protection, ways we keep our self or others safe from harm. To go outside those walls, to allow others inside those walls, to eventually even remove the walls, requires a willingness to be vulnerable.
I wrote the poem, “Anticipating Grief,” when my sister was beginning cancer treatment. I recognized then that much of my worrying was an unconscious way of anticipating grief, “preparing” myself in advance for hard things, so that if they came, I would be braced, and, perhaps, since I was ready for them, they wouldn’t hurt as much. I used anticipatory grief as if it were a barrier to actual grief. If I worried that my kids would fail, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt as much if they did. If I worried that an interaction would go poorly, then I had an emotional shield already up if that is what happened. I worried as if that anticipatory grief would somehow lessen the actual grief if and when it came.
I think there are a couple problems with this–it doesn’t work as we hope it might and it isn’t how God wants us to live.
If we worry all the time, we tend to be more cautious, which does save us from some circumstances that could cause grief. If we never make a friend, we save ourselves from the grief of betrayal. But we also remove the possibility of joy, companionship and shared life. When we protect ourselves physically, emotionally, materially, or psychologically with walls of worry and distrust, we remove ourselves from completely living; we are only partially living.
I also don’t think it’s how God wants us to live. When Jesus urged his disciples to, “Consider the lilies of the field…”, he points to a way of life that doesn’t anticipate grief, but lives fully in the day at hand. When we walk outside of our safe walls, when we allow God and others inside our safe walls, when we live wholeheartedly, holding nothing back, we take a chance. It is risky. By caring deeply and living wholly, a sorrow or betrayal might come unexpectedly and deeply hurt us; God might take away something that we don’t want taken away.
But, when walls come down–within ourselves, between us and God, between us and creation, between us and other people, it opens up passageways for the breath of God to blow through, and the breath of God brings amazing and beautiful things into being. When we let go of what we clutch for safety, we become able to honestly look at what is inside of us and inside of others. And, when, like the avalanche lily in the poem, we do “not hoard or hide” and “offer all the gifts” we have, we will be able to experience the joy of seeing whatever gifts we have to offer being used by God to help others and to accept the gifts others offer us. We can experience a life open to the leading of God, grateful for our place in the creation we are part of, and able to enjoy shared life together in community. Grief will no doubt come, but so will life, abundantly.
Louise Conner is new to the Godspace writers community. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where her days are filled with things she cares about–her church, family, friends, words, walks, sunrises, dirt, laughter, and opportunities to experience and join in God’s work in the world. She serves as a Board Member of Circlewood, a ministry of Mustard Seed Associates and yearns for the people of God to treasure and love this complex and beautiful world that God has created.